Iraq’s 15.5 million voters will elect a 275-member assembly from about 7000 candidates in the first full-term legislature since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
The election is also Iraq’s first vote to elect a parliament on the basis of a new constitution adopted through an October referendum.
Britain, as the European Union president, had wanted to send an EU mission for the poll, but the idea was ruled out for security reasons. So Baroness Nicholson’s team will not have the powers of an official mission.
A Liberal Democrat party member of the European Parliament for the South East region of England, Baroness Nicholson is currently the vice-president of the European Parliament’s committee on foreign affairs and a member of the subcommittee on human rights.
This will be her second visit to the Basra governorate as an election observer, having earlier monitored the 30 January 2005 election for a transitional parliament.
In a telephone interview with Aljazeera.net on Tuesday, Baroness Nicholson spoke about the EU’s mission and the electoral stakes in Iraq among other issues.
Aljazeera.net: Will the Iraqi elections be a success in democratic terms, and how will you judge that success?
Baroness Nicholson: I firmly believe this election is going to be a success in terms of turnout and adherence to basic democratic structures. It will also mark a successful third stage in the transfer of Iraq from a tyranny to one of the freest societies in the Arabian peninsula, Persian Gulf and Eastern Mediterranean.
The EU observers will be based in
The establishment of democracy will further send a profound signal to the rest of the region. The two previous stages of democratic election were both Iraqi-owned and Iraq-led; the third stage will express the will of the Iraqi people and deliver a full-fledged democracy.
Aljazeera.net: The election’s outcome is pretty much known, with Iraqis expected to vote along tribal and sectarian lines. However, under a new Shia- and Kurdish-dominated government, will the Sunni Arab Muslims feel their democratic rights are protected?
The Iraqi constitution is expected to undergo some alterations, but it contains basic protections for minorities and the political opposition. For democracy to succeed, there will be losers as well as winners.
Non-Arab Kurds of northern Iraq
A democratic system by its very definition can accommodate different points of view. Tyranny, from which Iraq is making its transition, is something totally different, where power is concentrated in the hands of an individual.
Aljazeera.net: Do you think the first election of a four-year parliament and a permanent government in Iraq will stop the anti-government fighters?
The election of a new parliament and a new government will certainly have an impact on the insurgency. My feeling is that the insurgency has peaked and is on a downward slide.
As we saw in Afghanistan, free elections can reduce insurgency to a level where it becomes essentially a security issue. The time has come for Iraq to move ahead as a full democracy while the government develops ways to deal with the insurgency.
Aljazeera.net: Will not a massive turnout by the Shia in the south increase the probability of the creation of an Iranian super-state?
Democracy in Iraq is about a certain way of ruling the country. Iranians are charting a path to democracy in their own way, and Iraqis are discovering their own path. Iraqis are different from Iranians; their attitudes are different and so are their cultures. So I don’t see any risk of an Iranian super-state emerging from elections in southern Iraq.
Aljazeera.net: When do you think US and British forces will withdraw? Second, will not even a phased troop withdrawal run the risk of igniting a civil war in Iraq?
Iraq’s 15.5 million voters will
Coalition forces will only withdraw when the incoming Iraqi government tells them to. In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai had warned that a hasty pullout ran the risk of triggering collapse of the democratic government. The same logic applies to Iraq.
My instinct is, the new Iraqi government will ask for security support for a considerable period of time and I hope the British people will understand the need for extending such support.
Aljazeera.net: The two elections this year were marred by rigging in some parts of the country. How confident are you that observers will oversee a clean election this time and what are the biggest challenges your team faces?
There were indeed instances of irregularities in the previous elections. But as one who has observed elections in many countries – Bahrain, Azerbaijan, Lebanon and Afghanistan among others – I can say that Iraq will try its best to keep the voting process within the rules and adhere to basic democratic principles.
This is going to be the case despite the legacy of the previous regime. I am confident the irregularities this time will remain within the margins of tolerance, and democracy will arrive in Iraq in a successful form.